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Divers of the Deep

Another important work contemplated by the Act of 1879 was the renewal of the dock gates. They had suffered injury from marine animals on the outside, where the water was purer than within the dock; and from  wear and tear at the hinges it had become difficult to open and close them. New gates to be actuated by hydraulic pressure were provided in 1884. By these ships can be let out and in at the dock at any time whenever there is sufficient water for them outside. When 1st erected the lock forming the northern entrance had 3 gates, the middle 1 dividing it into 2. This was intended to save water when a small ship passed through. Afterwards it was thought that the saving of water was not of great importance, and the middle gate was removed when the gates were renewed. The southern entrance with only 1 gate is opened shortly before high water and closed again when the water has fallen a few feet.  In order to admit to the dock ships of great draught of water the sill of the south entrance was lowered till it gave a depth of 26 feet at high water of ordinary spring tides, and a new gate worked by hydraulic machinery was provided.

The Wake of the Red Witch – John Wayne had fired our imagination when watching the maintenance of the underwater Docks.  The Diver being dressed up in his vulcanised diving suit with a giant brass and copper helmet that was locked on his halter neck with a hose attached which came off a reel in a dingy.  It was merely given air supply slowly pumped by 2 men by hand each side of the dingy. He was clad with lead weighted waistband and lead Breastplate/Backplate on a necklace and those Frankenstein Boots to prevent him floating off into the stratosphere.  He would descend a short ladder with signalling ropes attached to his waist and lower himself into the murky and oily depths of the Harbour and cast off his bloated body into the darkness leaving a steady flow of air bubbles to mark his position or progress – scary suspense for a wee loon tae watch.  His purpose was to clear debris dropped between Quay and Ship which would accumulate on the harbour bottom with what ever other harbour detritus that we Terrace  boys had chucked in  the Victoria Dock just to make a big splash – some 'gadjies' forgot to let go and ended up as apprentice divers without the necessary accoutrements and much haste was necessary to get the lifebelt to them before they went doon for the 3rd fated and final time.  Maybe that’s why there is no elegance in my swimming.

Imagine struggling up that ladder with such added weight after your stint of tying on with be-gloved hands the rails and lumps of cargo that had sank to foul the ships clearances.  These were hauled up for our immediate examination for crabs and limpets that managed to survive down there – with eels, dead cats in bags with a lump of coal for fatal ballast meowed little but their foul rotting stench was protest enough – if the buggers hadn’t already bloated themselves to the surface.  The helmet would be removed and weights while he took a break and ate his sandwiches still be-suited.  The Diver then re-encapsulated pumped up for another descent to Davy Jones’s Emporium for more mystery treasures. 

The harbour steps that we used were thick with oil and very treacherous but that didn’t stop us collecting timber flotsam for the fire with cat like stretches to test our centre of gravity and precarious footholds in attempts to paddle such flotsam towards us for domestic fire or Nov 5th bonfire on the Greenie below the Castle Terrace and behind the Scaffies Hoose.

In our eel catching enterprise we bundled up old nets and ropes and suspended them from the timber frames below Blaikie’s Quay after perilous ladder descents to equally greasy timber braces and skirt around the stanchions to examine our later catch which was considerable but totally rejected by our Ma as a source of protein.  The eels seemed to enjoy digging themselves inside the penetrable mass and had difficulty escaping till they had to when removed from the water.  The Eel fisherman on the River Dee beside the sewage outlet at Craiglug used a rod festooned with hooks over half its length to catch them as they eagerly fed on our half digested food which entered the Dee opposite the pleasure boat houses. His dingy would be full of writhing eels in no time as he merely plunged the rod in and out vertically and the hooks would imbed themselves in the eels flesh.   No doubt despatched due south live for jellied eel gourmets.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013